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K Street Courting Senate’s GOP Aides

Predicting a Slow Year, Shops Want Future Staff to Ride out Ban in 2012

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rohit Kumar (right), deputy chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is one of the chamber’s top GOP aides being targeted by K Street lobbying shops ahead of the 112th Congress’ second year.

With Congress' legislative agenda winding down, K Street lobby shops have begun wooing senior Senate Republican aides to leave the Hill now so the lobbyists-to-be can ride out their one-year bans during the upcoming election year.

Figuring the Senate likely has a better-than-even shot of flipping to GOP control, K Street hiring managers say they have their sights on the chamber's top aides. And they'd like to bring them on sooner, in many cases, because they want them unfettered to push client matters on the Hill as soon as the 113th Congress convenes.

"Senior-level Senate Republican staffers will be in demand, and it's a good time to leave now because they can sit out their ban during a period where there will not be a lot of legislative activity," said Ivan Adler, a K Street recruiter and principal at the McCormick Group.

While operating under a lobbying ban, newly minted K Streeters can still provide behind-the-scenes counsel to clients, and they could easily take part in some of next year's most notable activities such as fundraising and the presidential nominating conventions. But former top Senate aides are prohibited from lobbying the entire chamber for 12 months.

"There is no doubt that it is smart for firms, depending on their growth needs, to hire into the election. They are gaming it out right now," said Alex Vogel, a former top Senate aide who is now a partner with Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti. "There is demand, real demand for senior Senate people and leadership folks in particular."

Some of the names atop K Street's wish list, downtown sources say, include Rohit Kumar, who is deputy chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.); McConnell's leadership office chief of staff, Sharon Soderstrom, who is considered unlikely to decamp for the private sector; Wally Hsueh, minority staff director on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee; Jon Gans, deputy chief of staff and policy director for Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.); and another senior McConnell leadership aide, John Abegg.

Mark Prater, a senior Finance Committee aide for Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) who served as staff director for the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, is another potential prospect that hiring managers would like to scoop up. And Matt Sonnesyn, the former chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), is said to be, according to sources, finalizing his future plans. The staffers either declined comment or did not return calls seeking comment.

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